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Ron Bendell: If the liquor don't get you then something else will

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 17, 2012

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Fascinating to read a news story this week that began: "People who are grumpy in middle age are up to three times more likely to die than those with a happy outlook on life."

Can you spot the deliberate mistake? Yes, even though you may spend your days laughing and joking, cuddling kittens and dancing gaily across flower-strewn meadows with a song in your heart, you are just as bound to end up in a hole in the ground as an old wretch like me growling at passers-by and harbouring plans to re-open the workhouses to tackle the problems of poverty.

If anything, in fact, it seems to work the other way round. All those who die are immediately painted as saints who brought joy and happiness to us all. Just think of the tributes and praise they were queuing up to heap upon their blessed Sir Jimmy Savile who died last year. Sorry, bad example.

But still the belief persists that if you get everything right – give up those fags, eat healthily, take loads of exercise and smile a lot – eternal life will be yours. Again, sadly, even non-smoking, vegetarian cyclists who spend hours at positive- thinking tantric workshops run by a hippy at Totnes will eventually come face to face with the grim reaper.

Latest in this line of thought is a report from the charity Alcohol Concern who are worried at the number of boozers clogging up NHS hospitals in Devon and Cornwall. Individuals that is, not the buildings.

In the year 2010/11, there were 318,000 alcohol-related admissions, the majority of them not kids requiring stomach pumps and stitches after a night on the alcopops but boring middle-aged types who spend their lives in a liver-rotting haze of gin fumes. We're talking about the ones who sit quietly in their own corner of the pub, talk of stiffeners and enjoy a nice little toddy before bedtime.

And here, I suppose, I must apologise for flippancy. It does cost the health service a fortune and behind each of those hundreds of thousands of cases there is a story of misery and sorrow.

The message of the report is very simple: if you drink, sooner or later it will kill you – cut down or give up and you could live longer. However, it fails to remind us that even if the liquor doesn't get us something else definitely will and there are plenty of hospital beds full of people who've been sworn tee-totallers since that first visit to chapel.

Interesting to see that the fears voiced by Alcohol Concern came at the same time as a report from another group, including the Royal College of Surgeons, over the cost of treatment for the elderly. Those who, I presume, gave up the demon drink years back but who now face the inevitable "other" disease that will carry them off.

The old are often, it seems, being denied surgery and other procedures in favour of younger patients and there are calls for an end to this discrimination. The underlying theme, though, is one of the immense pressure hospitals are under from an ageing population.

Into this picture we must also include the almost daily stories of concern about the more general care of the elderly in specialist accommodation or simply needing a bit of help around the house. This is increasingly costly, patchy and, in some cases, rather dodgy, being provided by people with criminal records. Dear old Gran may live to be 100 but it's very likely her last decade or so will be lonely and uncomfortable and she'll have precious little to leave her family.

Don't forget, either, the simple cost of pensions as we all stretch out the allotted span. Will there be enough cash in the pot when you retire? In all we are like a bunch of holidaymakers who have delayed the flight home but can't really afford the extended period of stay.

This is hard to say – although as a drinker and a grumpy old man and therefore likely to pop off pretty sharpish, I feel I can – but should we not be raising a glass of non-alcoholic something to those who decide to get it all over and done with sooner rather than later? To those who will be leaving more in the pension pot than they ever took out? To those who enjoyed themselves while the internal organs lasted?

On the other hand, if in the wake of health scares you do clamber on to the wagon, remember that a long life is nor guaranteed although it will certainly feel that way.

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